Theme: Living Into Joy
Written by Peter Wall, First Congregational Church of Fresno
I never understood how it could be that God “sent” his son. Sending is done from a distance. But God is supposed to be everywhere, always. “Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord.” (Jer. 23:23–24.) Or, as it is put so evocatively in the Quran, “We created the human being, and We know what his soul whispers to him. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” (50:16.) If anything, God must be immediate and intimate.
If you share my concern about “sending” and “distance,” then you will be rewarded by a close but imaginative reading of the passage today from Luke.
First, there are shepherds in fields—not one shepherd, and not one field, but shepherds in fields. Without warning their multiplicity in those fields is met with a surrounding but singular angel of the Lord, which, despite being in fields, neither sings nor shouts, but merely speaks to them the news of a savior. Their presence is immediate and intimate.
(I think of Elijah, standing on the mountain, hearing God not in a wind, or an earthquake, or a fire, but a “still small voice.” Or “a sound of sheer silence,” as the New Revised Standard Version puts it. Closer, perhaps, than the thrum of his own jugular.)
The shepherds in their fields receive the news of a savior and suddenly there is a multitude of the heavenly host. The intimacy and immediacy of these angels tells a story in itself. It is not so much an arrival after a journey from afar as it is a revelation of alreadyness — they are messengers from what already fills the fields, with all of heaven and earth.
And as this season of Advent comes to a close, we should also notice that the shepherds in the fields were not waiting for God, or for the news of a savior. They were watching over their flocks in the night. Peering into a murky darkness. And the glorious good news was already there, surrounding them. Closer, maybe, than their own jugulars.